Open Letter to Dick Wolf, Creator of Law and Order

Dear Dick Wolf,

As creator of the television show Law and Order:SVU, I would like to thank you for elevating the word “heinous” from the depths of SAT vocab obscurity to an everyday word. For the past seventeen years your fans have heard these somber opening lines:

“In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories.”

In our Midwest household, Law and Order began at 9 PM, the same time our grade school children began to negotiate an extended bedtime. I usually acquiesced to their request to stay up longer, “just until we see who gets killed.” While I admit to a bit of guilt in exposing them to such violence, I also realize that your repetitive intro gave them a deep understanding of the word “heinous.” Mr. Wolf, thank you for giving them an advantage on their SAT test over their classmates with non-negotiable bedtimes.

I have also come to love the expressiveness of “heinous.” I imagine you and your writers brainstorming the opening lines.

Dick Wolf (DW): All right group. In our parent show, we refer to crimes only in a generic way. For this SVU spin-off we need to describe the essence of sex crimes. People need to understand why there is a special victims unit in the first place. Sexually based crimes are considered what? Any ideas?”

Staff Writer (SW) “What about reprehensible?”

(DW) “No, too many syllables, too much of a mouthful and not enough punch.”

(SW) “Depraved?”

(DW) “Sounds like a legal term – like depraved indifference. We need something that smells more like sex.”

(SW) “Ooh, ooh, I’ve got one. How about execrable?”

(DW) “Too much like excrement. There might be some overlap, but we want to focus on sex and not feces.”

(SW) “Wait, wait, I’ve got it. Heinous. Heinous is perfect. It’s got just the right ‘je ne sais quoi’ we need for an opening line.”

(DW) “Okay, give me the dictionary definition of heinous.”

(SW) “Here it is: ‘Utterly odious or wicked.’”

(DW): Not bad, but we need to connect the word with sex crimes. Flesh it out some more. Give me your pitch.”

(SW): “Now just think of the sound of the word. H-E-I-N-O-U-S. It rhymes with anus, right, so the word implicitly puts us in the correct anatomy.

(DW): Hmm, You know, the word also has a floral note of “penis.” We’re getting closer, but I think that we need another word to describe “heinous,” something rhythmic. It just needs to roll off the tongue.”

(SW) “How about “especially heinous.” People will know that there is a spectrum of heinousosity, and that sexually-based crimes fall towards the right end.”

(DW) “Okay, I’m with you, like the spectrum concept, keep talking, go on.”

(SW) “Alright, the word itself is a rule breaker. Remember from grammar school, “i” before “e” except after “c.” Heinous just doesn’t follow the rules.”

(DW) “What are you thinking? Nobody’s gonna care how to spell the damn word. The point is what heinous sounds like, and it sounds especially good to me. Any other ideas?


(DW) Okay, done, “especially heinous” it is. Now let’s talk about the doink, doink sound effects of the opening lines.

Mr. Wolf, now that you have introduced me to “heinous” I would like to use it conversationally. But this has been difficult. Through sheer repetition heinous is now so closely wedded to sex crimes I can’t think of it in any other way. What other venues could I use it in? Perhaps I could focus on the gentler left end of the spectrum. Could I consider the overcooking of a steak a “mildly heinous” act and send it back to the restaurant kitchen? Or would it be “sort of heinous” to RSVP a party and then forget to go? No, I don’t think so, heinous just can’t be softened. It starts in a bad place and only gets worse.

I have been frankly appalled by the more recent episodes of SVU, and I would no longer let any children stay up to see who (or how) someone died. Out of loyalty to your brand, I have endured bizarre incest story lines, brain tumors that turn characters into pedophiles and twins with ambiguous genitalia abused by their therapist. Perhaps you have simply run out of story lines, or have felt the need to shake up a jaded audience that has become far too familiar with dreary iterations of fluids in the panties. So now I am grateful that you started out with “especially heinous,” leaving you room at the extreme right end of the spectrum for something worse. Mr. Wolf, in the spirit of full disclosure, please consider intensifying your opening lines, replacing “espeically heinous” with the more accurate “utterly heinous.”

Respectively yours,

Liza Blue

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